California has become the first US state to ban discrimination against black hairstyles such as braids, twists and locks.
California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, signed the law yesterday making it illegal to discriminate against natural black hairstyles in schools and workplaces.
The law makes California the first state to explicitly recognise that those hairstyles are associated with race and therefore protected against discrimination in the workplace and in schools.
It comes after years of nationwide reports of African American school students being sent home over braids or natural styles that violated dress code rules.
"We are changing the course of history, hopefully, across this country by acknowledging that what has been defined as professional hair styles and attire in the work place has historically been based on a Euro-centric model – based on straight hair," said Holly Mitchell, the state senator who introduced the bill.
Alikah Hatchett-Fall, who runs Sacred Crowns Salon in Sacramento, said she has black men come into her salon asking to have their hair cut off because they cannot find jobs.
She said the new legislation "means that psychologically and mentally people can be at ease and be able to get the jobs they want, keep the jobs they want, and get promoted at the jobs they want."
The law, which takes effect on January 1, is significant because federal courts have historically held that hair is a characteristic that can be changed, meaning there’s no basis for discrimination complaints based on hairstyle.
The US Supreme Court recently declined to hear the case of an Alabama woman who said she did not get a job because she refused to change her hair.
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The issue gained exposure last December, when a black high school wrestler in New Jersey was told by a referee that he had to cut off his dreadlocks if he wanted to compete.
California’s Democratic governor said the incident was a clear example of the discrimination black Americans face.